Diners Club Club Rewards launched in 1985, and the very first airline co-brand launched in 1986.
Very quickly the major airline frequent flyer programs were up and running with credit cards.
It’s easy to think back on the good old days, and to be sure awards cost far fewer miles back then. But airlines printed far fewer miles, too. In fact it was 14 years ago before I saw a 20,000 mile signup offer for a United credit card.
I thought it would be useful perspective to look back on airline credit card rewards 30 years ago, when they just got started.
- American: they offered both a MasterCard and Visa from Citibank, each with $50 annual fees (waived for the first 6 months). Signup bonus was 5000 miles: 2500 on approval and 2500 with first purchase.
- Continental: had the very first card from Marine Midland Bank. It had a $26 annual fee (waived for 6 months). Signup bonus was also 5000 miles: 2500 on approval and 2500 with first purchase.
- United: First Chicago issued the Mileage Plus First Card Visa with a $45 annual fee (waived for a year). Instead of miles you received a signup bonus of a $25 travel certificate to use on United or Westin, Hilton, or Hertz all commonly owned at the time. The card also came with an upgrade certificate from each of the four travel companies.
United’s livery of my youth. By Torsten Maiwald, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons
Delta had not yet come out with its co-brand American Express card in 1987.
While award tickets have gone up in price, they haven’t gone up 10-fold over the last 30 years the way that signup bonuses have, so maybe award chart devaluation isn’t so bad after all.